Bad women and the songs they sing
That Buzzy Jacksons new book, A Bad Woman Feeling Good, Blues and the Women Who Sing Them, will become a must-read for dedicated blues fans comes as no shock. What is surprising, however, is that a book about the lineage of influential women in the American blues tradition can be an engaging read for the rest of us.Though unmistakably an academic treatment of the subject,Jacksons book is a perfect example of a crossover success in terms of mainstream appeal. Published by WW Norton and written in a straightforward and approachable style, what makes it obvious that Jacksons book started its life as her doctoral dissertation at UC Berkeley is the amount of research and detail that goes into chronicling the lives of the women blues singers she writes about.And while critics across the country may be surprised to learn that Jackson was raised in Truckee not exactly a hotbed of the blues many folks in town will remember Jackson as the kid who was always hanging around the old Truckee River Book and Tea shop with her mother Ruth Hall and co-owners Tom and Joanne Meschery.After graduating from Tahoe Truckee High School, Jackson studied English at University of California, Los Angeles, and eventually American history at UC Berkeley. Currently she lives in Boulder, Colo., and will be teaching in the history department of the University of Colorado at Boulder next term. In the mean time, readers in Truckee will have a chance to welcome Jackson back to town as her current book tour will bring her through Truckee on Saturday, Feb. 12 for a book signing and blues bash at the Truckee Donner Community Center.With Jacksons literary background, its no surprise that she wanted her dissertation to be something that would be accessible to a mainstream audience from the very beginning.A big pet peeve of mine is the kind of academic writing that is just full of jargon and 50-cent words that are kind of pointless, she said in an interview late last month. So I definitely wrote it as if I was just trying to write a book like any nonfiction book youd see in a bookstore that would be entertaining and bring the reader in.A Bad Woman Feeling Good chronicles the lives of a string of women singers in the blues tradition starting with Ma Rainey and moving on to Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Lucinda Williams and a number of more contemporary performers such as Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Whitney Houston and even Courtney Love.I kind of wanted to write something that was about American culture in general, but that would kind of highlight the contributions of women that I thought had been a little overlooked, at least in music and cultural history, Jackson said of her choice of topic.The book goes searching for the common threads that tie these women together as performers and as blues singers, and finds it in the notion of the bad woman feeling good a play on the old-time description of a female blues singer as a good woman feeling bad.All of the women in the book, Jackson argues, discovered truer versions of themselves when they broke societys rules about how women should act, look, sound, and feel. They refused to follow the rules of good behavior, and in the process earned some very scandalous reputations.
And while their reputations may have suffered, Jackson contends that their contributions helped all American women break out of the stereotypical roles society has traditionally relegated them to.As a newly published author, Jackson is excited to be sent on her first book tour, which will take her to San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Boston and New York City. But it is her homecoming to Truckee that has many people in the local community excited.I feel lucky because, even though Truckees changed so much in the last 20 years, it still just feels like a really homey, nice place where locals really support other local stuff. I just think its great that theres some what that my book can be a part of something thats helping out the Truckee library, Jackson said.
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